World still awaiting the arrival of 'next Pele'

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The Independent Online

Pele, widely acclaimed as the greatest player the world has seen, celebrated his 60th birthday yesterday with no indication that anyone will ever upstage his achievements.

Pele, widely acclaimed as the greatest player the world has seen, celebrated his 60th birthday yesterday with no indication that anyone will ever upstage his achievements.

The Brazilian was said to be spending the day in Prague before travelling on to Zurich, according to his official website Pele.net.

Born in the small town of Tres Coracoes in the state of Minas Gerais, the legendary figure reaches the milestone in excellent health.

"When I retired from soccer I weighed 78 kilos and today I'm around 80 or 81," he said in a recent interview.

Pele has been inundated by offers to take part in a special testimonial match, as he did on his 50th birthday when he played 45 minutes for Brazil against a Rest of the World XI in Italy. However, a knee operation two years ago ended his plans of a repeat.

"I would only play if I was fully fit," he said. "The idea was that I would train for two to three months beforehand and play 25 minutes."

Pele scored more than 1,000 goals in his career and won two World Cups with Brazil, in 1958 and 1970.

But it was the breathtaking artistry of many of them - as well as some of the chances he missed - rather than statistics which captured the imagination of the world. With the modern game favouring workrate, tactical discipline and physical strength ahead of individualism and improvisation, Pele seems set to retain his status for decades to come.

Tostão, who played alongside him in 1970, wrote a glowing tribute in Sunday's Jornal do Brasil. "Idols and myths grow old and die but their works of art are eternal," he said.

Pele was taken on in 1956 by Santos, who he led to several national titles. After seeing Brazil's national team through its years of glory, he joined New York Cosmos in 1975 with hopes of promoting the sport in the United States. He played his last professional game in 1977 and has since become a prosperous businessman - owner of Pele Sports & Marketing.

As minister of sports in 1997 he began a quest to modernize and reorganize Brazil's archaic soccer structure by proposing the "Pele Law". The law, which recently had many of its articles amended and its essence gutted, aimed to force teams - long considered non-profit social associations - to become businesses in the hope of turning amateurish outfits into efficient, modern corporations.

But Pele's career as national role model has also had its rough patches. Sandra Machado Arantes do Nascimento, whom he failed to publicly recognise as his daughter until DNA tests conclusively confirmed the paternity, filed a lawsuit against him.

And last month, a congressional commission investigating allegations of tax evasion and other misconduct by players, coaches and soccer officials, pointed to Pele as one of its targets. He has subsequently denied any wrongdoing.

Pele says his goal for the next decade will be to dedicate more time to his children: son Edinho and four-year-old twins, Joshua and Celeste. Looking back on his 60 years, he said: "I wouldn't change a thing."

He reportedly spent his birthday with his wife, Assiria Seixas, in the Czech Republic and later he is scheduled to fly to Switzerland to attend a meeting of Fifa.

The former Brazil national coach, Wanderley Luxemburgo, sacked last month after poor results amid allegations of taking commissions on the sale of players, has vowed that he will one day return to his old job.

In his first television appearance since being dismissed, he was armed with a battery of documents which, he said, proved both that he was innocent and that he had been a victim of blackmail.

He said: "I have been run over by a tractor. I was treated like a murderer and a drug trafficker for two months. I can't understand it, the way it was done. I just can't have so many enemies."

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